Ever since The Walking Dead shuffled, groaning, onto our screens critics and viewers alike have repeatedly commented on the fact that while it is a zombie series it is not necessarily a series about zombies.
The Walking Dead is more of a look at human interaction in times of crisis, focussing on a group of survivors and their own internal conflicts. The zombies, or walkers, are not so much an active threat as they are yet another obstacle for the group to overcome.
While watching Colony, the new sci-fi series from the USA Network, I got the distinct impression that the series was a slightly different take on the same formula.
Colony is set in the extremely near future where an advanced alien race has essentially overwhelmed the population of earth and has divided the remaining population up into large walled colonies, referred to as ‘blocs’.
The plot follows Josh Holloway, who only seems to have become more rugged since Lost, and his family as they are drawn into a growing conflict between the proxy human government and a group of insurgents determined to overthrow their alien oppressors.
The first thing that becomes apparent after watching the series is that while there has been an alien invasion, the aliens themselves are nowhere to be seen. Aside from the mechanical drones which accompany the government forces and the large walls surrounding each bloc, there is very little in the way of traditional sci-fi trappings, no ray guns, no futuristic outfits.
Even the collaborators have more in common with the wealthy elites of the Hunger Games universe than any sci-fi franchise I can call to mind. In fact, with a few minor tweaks the show’s premise be seen as a modern take on 1984, a totalitarian government with nebulous goals subduing it’s people with violence and fear.
However , despite the fact that while the human government wields some power they are themselves accountable to these shadowy alien overlords gives the collaborators an much needed dose of sympathy.
The big cheese of the bloc in which the story is focussed, Proxy Snyder, is excellently portrayed as a man desperately trying to exude confidence while being perpetually terrified. Played by Peter Jacobson, Snyder starts out styled as oily little bureaucrat who will do anything to maintain the status quo.
However as his character progresses we learn that he lives in just as much fear as everyone else. Rather than being a big fish in a small pond, he is one large fish in a selection of fish tanks, and should his superiors tire of him he is easily expendable.
In unguarded moments he is more than willing to admit that should they tire of his leadership, the invaders could unleash all forms of hell upon the remaining humanity, thus he sees his brutal rule as the lesser evil.
One very interesting facet of the show is how it depicts the nascent insurgency, and the collateral damage caused by it’s conflict with the government. There are several scenes in which people both within the government and in the general public who decry their methods, painting them as hopeless idealists who only get people killed.
Nor are the resistance members depicted as a clear force for good, their methods are at times just as brutal as the regime they are fighting to overthrow. This contrasts with other alien invasion narratives on television today, most specifically TNT’s Falling Skies, in which a rag-tag militia battle a vastly superior alien force with no real concept that they could be in the wrong.
For a show which is on the surface about the subjugation of the US, I was quite surprised by the amount of scepticism and hostility to the insurgency. I had expected them to be painted in a more positive light, but my making them morally greyer the show makes the audience make up it’s own mind on the matter.
What sets this series apart from so many others is the ever present sense of tension that the cast give off. In their own ways each character is walking a knife-edge, and the way in which this is drawn out over several episodes is at times almost unbearable.
Going back to my Walking Dead analogy, it is not the aliens, but how their arrival has affected the characters that is the core of the series. You could substitute them for anything, ghosts, lizard people, sentient jam, and it would be much the same formula. This isn’t meant as a criticism, rather to highlight just how engaging the narrative is without having to lean too heavily on special effects to draw in an audience.
While it may not be the show for those looking for an effects driven Starship Troopers-esque adventure, or horrifying creature design, if you enjoy intense, character driven stories with a sci-fi twist then why aren’t you watching already?
All images courtesy of USA